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Wise Up!

Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (New International Version 1984) - Hosea 14:9

When I read this verse, I wondered...What is it the wise man realizes? What is it that the discerning man understands?

I found the answer when I went back and read the verses leading up to our Verse of the Day.

Hosea 14:1-2

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
2 Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips

Hosea 14:4

4 “I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them." (New International Version 1984)

What the wise man realizes and the discerning man understands is that repentance leads to forgiveness and blessings from God. And, yes, the rebellious stumble on this truth because they are unwilling to confess their sin and seek forgiveness, then they wonder why they are not experiencing the blessings of God.

It may surprise you to know that I'm not talking about unbelievers here, but those of us who are Christ followers. Those who have asked Him to be Lord of our lives, but still cling to some areas of rebellion - areas of our behavior, habits or thought lives that we know are not pleasing to God, but we are unwilling to let go of.

It's a simple equation...

Confession + Repentance = A life that God can bless

Refusal to Confess + Refusal to Repent = "Good luck, my friend!"

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Hitting the Wall

"Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame." Isaiah 50:6-8


Long distance runners often talk about hitting the wall. That's the point in a race where your body begins to cry out in pain, your legs feel like concrete, your mental process slows down and the urge to quit is almost overwhelming.

Photo courtest  lusi, rgbstock.com
In order to battle this phenomenon, the athlete develops a strategy ahead of time that will allow him to push past the wall. Perhaps it's a mantra he chants,a change in pace, fluids and snacks he can eat on the run. These strategies deliver renewed energy, both physical and mental, that allow him to push past the wall, to experience the victory of finishing the race and finishing it strong.

Sometimes as Christians, we're running the race of life when suddenly we hit the wall, spiritually. Life is not a sprint, it's a marathon and at some point we all find ourselves worn out, beat down and barely trudging along. Our once strong faith has been stretched to the limit and we may find ourselves wondering if we are running this race solo.

Just like the athlete, we need a predetermined strategy to assure that we are able to fortify ourselves for the next leg of the race.  Here are some of the things that have helped me when I find myself spiritually exhausted.

  • Slow the pace - trim excess activities from your schedule until you catch a second wind.
"He says, “Be still, and know that I am God..." Psalm 46:10

"But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint."  Isaiah 40:31
  •  Nourish yourself - spend time in the Word of God and prayer
"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,"  1 Peter 2:2

"Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Matthew 4:4
  •  Talk with the "coach" - spend time in prayer, asking God to renew your strength
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
  • Find some cheerleaders - develop friendships with other believers so that you can mutually encourage one another through the race.
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up..." 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Beware of sabotage - you have an enemy and he will use whatever he can, be it circumstances or other people to trip you up. Be prepared to avoid any temptation and overcome any obstacle he puts in your way.
 "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you." Galatians 5:7-8
  • Keep your eye on the finish line - this life is temporary, but we have a prize at the end of this race that far out weighs the difficulties and challenges we experience here.
"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14 
  • Remember, you are not running this race alone
"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 
  • Take time to enjoy the scenery along the way
"put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." 1 Timothy 6:17b 

Photo courtesy Ambroz, rgbstock.com
It's a beautiful world we live in, created by our Heavenly Father. His plan is for us to enjoy our time here, to take in the majestic mountains, lush foliage, brilliantly colored flowers, amazing wildlife, develop loving relationships with others and most of all, to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Enjoy the race and FINISH STRONG!

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Sandpaper People

Photo courtesy John De Boer, rgbstock.com
Sandpaper - paper that's been covered with an abrasive such as sand or glass. Used to smooth or polish the surface of an object by scraping away the rough exterior to reveal the beauty beneath.
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Have you ever refinished an old piece of furniture? The process involves lots of sanding to cut through and remove layers of wax, varnish and paint until you can see the beauty of the raw wood with all its grains in varying shades and even the knots that make it truly a unique piece.  It's a lot of hard work, but the end result is beautiful

When we come to Christ, God begins a sanding process on us to strip away all the rough layers we've built up. Layers that protect or cover up what's really inside.  He knows how He created you-who He made you to be and He will not let up until He sees the real you shining forth.

How does He do it? Sandpaper!

Sometimes He uses difficult circumstances and sometimes He uses difficult people.  I call these Sandpaper People.

They're abrasive, frustrating and annoying. They make your life difficult. They hurt you. And when their life rubs up against yours, it's painful.

They strip away the smooth exterior we try so hard to maintain only to reveal some ugly layers that lie beneath. Anger, impatience, prejudice, unforgiveness...these are just a few of the things that God uses Sandpaper People to reveal. Not so He can point a finger and say how bad you are, but so that we are aware of what's still lingering under the new surface of your relationship with Christ - so that we can offer those things up to Him for forgiveness and healing.

So, the next time you rub up against one of those Sandpaper People, instead of getting mad, take a moment to ask yourself what it is that God is trying to show you about yourself and then let him smooth away that layer to reveal a newer you.

"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

Prayer:
Father, thank you for loving me just the way I am, but also for loving me too much to leave me this way. I welcome you to change those things in me that need changing so that I might be the person you created me to be. I know it will be painful at times, but I am willing to go through the sanding process so that my life will be a beautiful testimony of your transformational power. Amen
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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Iron Sharpens Iron

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Do you have a friend who keeps you on your spiritual toes? One who listens to what's on your heart, then has a ready word of encouragement, comfort or even admonition when the occasion calls for it?

Photo courtesy,  lusi  rgbstock.com
Do you have a friend who will give you godly advice when you have a decision to make? One who pull you back from the brink of destruction when they see you about to make a huge mistake?

Do you have a friend who will pray for you on a regular basis, love you as you are, but also tell you (in a frank, but loving way) when you are being a jerk?

Have you given anyone in your life the permission to be this kind of friend?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are blessed indeed.

I have a couple of friends like this and they keep me grounded in Christ, while encouraging me to be all God made me to be.

Of course, in order to have relationships like this, one must be willing to open up to another, to share who you really are, flaws and all. Then you must be willing to allow them to speak freely into your life without taking offense.

You hear them out, take what they say into careful consideration, pray, asking God to show you what to hold onto and what to let go of and most of all, you return the favor. You be that kind of friend in return.

We were never meant to do life on our own, but to walk in fellowship with others.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4:9-12


Prayer:
Father, thank you for the friends you have put into my life. Help us to develop our relationships to the point that we are willing to allow one another to sharpen us spiritually. Help me to be that kind of friend to those that you placed in my life. Amen

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Jesus said, "Don't follow me."

We have many accounts, in the Bible, of Jesus meeting a person and after just a short interaction with them, he invited them to follow him - to accompany him as he walked the dusty roads carrying the message of love and the Father's redemptive plan.

However, there's at least one incident where he did something quite different.

It was the story of the demon possesed man from whom Jesus had cast out many demons. (You can read the story here.)

This is what happened when it was time for Jesus to move on...

"As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed." Mark 5:18-20 (NIV)


The New Living Translation puts it like this...
"But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been." Mark 5:19 (NLT)
The man begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus sent him back to his people, back to his family to tell his story.

We all have a sphere of influence - certain people with whom we have built a relationship, people who know us; family, co-workers, people in our church, etc.  These people have seen us through the ups and downs of life, but it's the down times - the trials of life that speak most clearly to them.

Why? Because they all go though rough times themselves.  They want to know that when times are hard, you can count on God. They want to know that He will give you the strength to stand strong and make it out on the other side of the trial victoriously.  So, Jesus sent the man who had been touched by God back to his family, his home town and he instructed the man to share with those who knew him best, what the Lord had done for him.

Let's remember this when God does something wonderful for us. Let's share it (in an attitude of love) with those we know. Those who seem open to it and those who don't, because they, too will soon face a challenge and your words will come back to them.

In doing that, we are actually following Jesus more than we even realize.

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Dealing with Perfectionism

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. " Matthew 5:48

Perfect?

Perfect like God?

You've got to be kidding me!

Do you struggle with trying to be perfect? Constantly measuring your behavior or performance against some impossible standard? For someone who has a tendency toward perfectionism, this can be a daunting command, for what more impossible standard to attain could there be than to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect?

Fortunately, for us, there is hope. 

"For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy". Hebrews 10:14

You see, as believers, we have already been made perfect in our hearts by the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross but, we continue to be "being made holy" (perfect) as we grow in our relationship with Him.

Our hearts are perfect in God's sighs, but our behavior, our character, our attitudes need work. They are "being made holy" - not by us, but by God, Himself.

Philippians 1:6 assures us that God is working on us and that He will continue working on us until the day He takes us home to be with Christ Jesus...

"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

That should be a comfort to those of us who judge ourselves so harshly, expecting perfection. 

So, if it's God's job to perfect us...what's our job?

Obedience.  As He points to things in our lives He wants to change, we must cooperate with Him through obedience and when we do, we have come one step closer to being perfect, just as He is perfect.

Just one step at a time.

Now, doesn't that take some of the pressure off?

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Loopholes in the Bible?

W. C. Fields spent his last weeks in a hospital, where a friend stopped by for a visit and caught Fields reading the Bible. When asked why, Fields replied, "I'm checking for loopholes."[1]


When I heard this on the radio today, it made me laugh, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how tragic it was.

Fields, was "an avowed atheist [who] regarded all religions with the suspicion of a seasoned con man."[2]   And yet, at the end of his life, he was drawn to the Word of God, possibly hoping that he might convince himself that God isn't real and that there is no heaven or hell...or at least if there is, that there might be some way for a man, who had denied the existance of God and squandered his life on sinful living to wiggle out of the sure consequences of such choices.

I doubt he found any loopholes. God's Word is very clear. There is a God, a Creator of the Universe, who loves each one of us so much that when we stood condemned by our sin, He sent His Son to pay the penalty for that sin, so that we might have a restored relationship with the Father and receive the promise of eternal life with Him after we leave this world.

That is the truth as found in the Bible. Whether we choose to believe it or to reject it does not change the truth, it only determines where we will spend our eternity.

As for me, I choose to believe it and if at the end of my life someone finds me reading my Bible, it won't be because I'm looking for loopholes. It will be because I am reading about my future!

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Footnotes:
1 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._C._Fields
2 - Jordan, S. C. (2008). Hollywood's original rat pack The bards of Bundy Drive. Lanham, Maryland [u.a.]: Scarecrow Press. p. 151. ISBN 0-8108-6032-5

This Little Light of Mine

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."  Matthew 5:16


Image courtesy, Chris, rgbstock.com
We all know that Christians are supposed to let our light shine. Why?  So that our Father in heaven may be glorified, but some times we unintentionally get hung up on the middle phrase of that verse...

"that they may see your good deeds"

I know, I know - none of us mean to do "good deeds" in order to garner praise for ourselves, but admit it...a pat on the back feels good, being recognized for what we do is encouraging. It adds to our self-worth...and that's the trap!

We are supposed to be shining the light so that others see God, not us.

The candle shines, not so that all eyes are drawn to it, but so that the room may be lighted for others.

A good way to stay on track is to remember Colossians 3:23...

" Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..." (not for the approval or applause of others.)

On the flip-side of that coin, we, as Christians, should keep our eyes focused on God, not the lights (people) that He uses to lead us into a closer walk with Him.

Don't forget what happens to a bug when it is mesmerized by the flame?

So, while we respect and love our spiritual leaders, fixing our eyes on them as our source will only lead to dissappointment, while fixing our eyes on God will lead us into the light of His glorious love.

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Do Not Be Weary in Doing Good

 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. " Galatians 6:9

Visitors to Refreshed by the Word in the past month.
I have a confession to make...

Last year when I started this blog, my intention was to write uplifting messages from the Word so that anyone who needed a "faith lift" could come Refreshed by the Word and be encouraged and strengthened in their spiritual walk.

At first I was really excited and posted almost every day. Then life got busy, I got stressed and even a little discouraged. I had been posting for months, but wasn't even sure anyone was reading the blog. I got "weary in doing good."  So, for the past several months I have only written one or two devotionals.

Without going into all the reasons why, this week has been particularly discouraging for me.  I mentioned it to one of our Pastor's yesterday and he immediately began to pray for me. This morning I received an email with a link to a really encouraging article, then this afternoon, I did something I haven't done for about six months...I checked the stats on this blog.

In the past month there have been 450 visits to Refreshed by the Word - and the big surprise is that more than half of them were folks from outside the United States - 193 from Russia alone! I had no idea that God had been using my little blog to encourage people on the other side of the world.

Sometimes when you write a blog and there are very few comments, you begin to believe that no one is reading it and that can be discouraging, but now I know that even if people don't take the time to comment...they are reading and God is blessing them through His Word.

So, for those of you who have been visiting...thank you and please, come back often, because I intend to be faithful in posting new devotionals to encourage and refresh you in the faith.

And for those of you who are in ministry - I hope this encourages you to keep doing what God has called you to do, even when it seems that your efforts are not making a difference. They are, because God says...

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,  so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."  Isaiah 55:10-11


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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)

Dying to Self

I ran across this anonymous poem this evening and was challenged by it. Just had to share...

When you are forgotten, neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don't sting or hurt with the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer for Christ;

    That is dying to self.
When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinion ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence;
    That is dying to self.
When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus did;
    That is dying to self.
When you are content with any food, and offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God;
    That is dying to self.
When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown;
    That is dying to self.
When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met, and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and you are in desperate circumstances;
    That is dying to self.
When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit, inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart;
    That is dying to self.

I've got a long way to go, but at least I have a better idea of what to shoot for!

Jan

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(Copyright© 2012 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)